The Underground Rising

The digital music revolution (MP3′s/IPods) enabled music fans to break the influence of mainstream pop, rock, R&B and country music institutions over music tastes and find great new contemporary Christian, edgy Christian music and other underground music styles.

Only a few years from 30, it is starting to become impossible for me to remember a time without an IPOD. The impact the device has made on the way people listen and experience music is immeasurable; changing the way and the frequency in which we obtain and experience new music. Where my friends and I carried these massive CD “books” around with us in high school; these (mp3 players) often cell phone size devices can contain what twenty of those “books” could not. They allowed you to carry a phonebook’s worth of music in a datebook size device. So, with the ability to easily transport and manage extremely large amounts of music came a shift that the music industry at large didn’t predict or expect; we got bored.

Suddenly, MTV and the local radio couldn’t get enough to us fast enough; the amount of popular and mainstream music produced in a year would not even begin to take up a precious gig in our lives. So after years of being sold the same recycled versions of Britney Spears and P.Diddy, the music public began to do something that hadn’t really been seen in over 40 years ( or even since recorded music became the primary avenue for music distribution); we began to find new music on our own.

This new adventurous nature with consumers has had a large impact on the scope of popular music since this shift. As people were tiring of the popular music mainstream, and with the rise of this new interest in harder to come by and off the path sounding music; many bands and artists who had been the obscure and struggling started to see their concerts sell out; (ex.Coheed & Cambria, The Mars Volta, Common, The Swell Season) and their names known outside the scene in which they had made their career. Once again, the term pop was being replaced on music listener’s minds with the terms “experimental”, “edgy”, and “innovative”. What was considered by most to be underground in the music industry was now making its way onto headlining spots for tours and festivals, and holding the top downloads on iTunes. The reasoning for this might be because people were tired of hearing the same thing on the radio; not being able to hear enough diversity in their MP3 (IPOD song shuffle) collections; or simply because this other music just sounded better. For whatever reason, we have seen over the last ten years an influx of artists that operate outside of the popular music world find reasonable success despite their unwillingness to conform to the standards that were so long dictated by the MTV success route.

Christian music, simply put, is music that either lyrically or sonically that reflects a relationship with Jesus Christ( we will discuss the definition further in another post, just wait for it). Where as in the non-Christian music industry (or secular, even though I hate that word) genres that were considered underground were few and existed only outside the realm of what most people considered “mainstream” (a word I DO like); the Christian music industry as a whole has been considered to be underground for a long time. Mainly due to the lyrical content, Christ-centered music has had a tough time finding its way into mainstream success. For the most part; bands that had a strong faith based foundations could only truly realize a career within their own industry. Despite the music in most cases being strong competition for its secular counterparts; music in the Christian industry was either viewed as “preachy”, or too gospel for non-believers to enjoy.

With the shift in popular music taking place in the last decade however, more and more we are seeing Christ-centered artists finding a larger fan base in the once called “secular mainstream”. As a whole, the underground music scene is trading places with the mainstream one; and with it, the artists that have thrived in the Christian industry. Best Buy carries Facedown, Gotee, and Tooth and Nail’s roster now. Paramore and P.O.D. play Jay Leno; while other lesser know believers are headlining Warped Tour, Ozzfest, and Rockstar Mayhem tours. In a very short amount of time, the Christian music industry, and artists that are sharing their faith through music are able to both have their ministries, be heard outside the church crowd, and enjoy careers at the same time. It would seem that with the IPOD shift, Christ-centered music has an opportunity to succeed in a way we never thought it would.

The ( unofficial ) story of the band Switchfoot is a great example of the shift. Even within the Christian music industry, there are many genres and performers that are considered even too “different” for the Christian industry. Switchfoot has been around as long as I can remember; I seem to even recall their sound being somewhat skate-punk to begin with. Over my teenage years, I ran into a lot of Switchfoot fans(I wasn’t much for punk at the time, P.O.D. ALL THE WAY!); but it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I heard what most people know to be Switchfoot now. No sooner had I experienced Switchfoot being backed by the more mainstream side of the Christian industry; they were signed to a big label, and were mentioned along side the names of Foo Fighters and Nickelback. Whether you like Switchfoot or not, their rise in the industry is a pretty good demonstration of the shift in the industry across the board. From underground unknown punk band, to revered underground band, to major Christian rock artists, to major rock band period. It is quite a cycle.

Are Christian artitsts finally finding their place, or is this a trend that won’t last?

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